When I was small, my paternal grandmother gifted me with a little yellow suitcase. When I left home to see the world at age eighteen, it was one of the things I left behind.
Thinking about it now, that surprises me a bit, but more on that in a minute.
About four years back, my parents decided to sell their house and travel full time until they were too old or infirm to do so. I enthusiastically supported them in this notion, and so I went to help them sort through their things and shuck their household into different directions: Storage, thrift shop, yard sale.
I felt like a disproportionate amount went into my vehicle, but I indulged my mother, because I knew that there were certain things she didn’t necessarily want to keep but couldn’t bear to part with. I went home with several things I felt sort of ‘Meh?’ about, because my Mom is a fucking saint and has been my champion the whole of my life. What’s a little cartage in the face of her mom-heroics?
One of the things we unearthed was the little yellow suitcase that I’d so loved. Mom couldn’t bear to let it go. She could sell the piano I’d gotten for my ninth birthday and parcel out my dolls to my younger cousins, but the little yellow suitcase stayed. It eventually became a place to house certain paperwork so that it bore the title ‘useful’ and had an actual purpose. A purpose meant a reason for being kept.
This is me around the time that the suitcase was gifted to me. I thought that suitcase was brilliant and gorgeous. There is a layered irony now in the fact that it was given to me by my paternal grandmother, but at the time all it represented to me was promise.
A suitcase was a very adult thing to have. It was also a very individual thing to have. It meant that I was seen as a person independent of adults. It meant that my things had to share space with only my things. It meant that I could pack my own bag as I pleased, and I could set off on adventures if it suited me.
So that’s what I did.
It started with me packing the suitcase and going out into the backyard to play. Then I packed the suitcase and went to the end of the driveway. Then I packed the suitcase and went to the neighbor’s house.
Before long, I was toting that bag down the block and around the corner and to the store and to the library (on those excursions I could scarcely carry it home, because I was bringing it back full of books). Over the years I carried my suitcase to my Uncle’s bowling alley to earn a quarter doing small jobs, my Aunt’s bakery for a cream-filled donut, my cousin’s house because I wanted to pet his dog. Sometimes I ended up staying the night with various family members by virtue of the fact that I had a little yellow suitcase that was packed with a pair of pajamas and a set of clean clothes. I was very fortunate in that I was a well-loved and well-regarded child, with multiple sets of ‘parents’ by way of a large extended family.
For as strict as my parents were in many ways, my vagabond tendencies –stoked by my first suitcase– were very indulged. My saddle oxfords got worn slap out.
This early tolerance of my independent streak and my love of finding new things, of seeing new places, set a tone for my life. I’m very thankful to my Mother and Father for this.
I’m thankful, too, to Mary. She is the person who gave me the little yellow suitcase. She didn’t gift me much else in my life (of substance OR of spirit), and I grew to despise her as I crept toward adulthood. I learned a couple of years ago that Mary’s mother left her on the side of a tree-lined gravel road when she was thirteen. Mary had one thing in each hand: The hand of her ten-year-old baby sister and a suitcase. My heart has softened to her some, because I’ve come to know that what I don’t know fills galaxies; they are galaxies that are populated with hard things like want and sorrow and truth and understanding.
The understanding I have teased out of one of those galaxies is this, though: Mary gave me that suitcase, and by doing so she both opened a door inside of me that I stepped through, and she prepared me for my life.
I was a small blue thing with a little universe in a box. Glory hallelujah.